LingoBoingo: Play Games, Make the World Smarter

Citizen Science Salon iconCitizen Science SalonBy GuestDec 21, 2018 9:03 PM


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Who doesn’t like playing games? What if you could play fun games online and in the process make the world a smarter place? That’s the idea behind LingoBoingo. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Linguistic Data Consortium and department of Computer and Information Science, the University of Essex, Queen Mary University of London, the Université de Montpellier, and the Sorbonne have teamed up to bring together a group of online games that contribute to research in language science and technology. Sponsored in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation, LingoBoingo currently contains seven online language games with more on the way. Lovers of language, grammar, and literature can test their knowledge, earn high scores, and compete against other players in a variety of challenging games.

Linguistic research helps make technologies smarter. Image: Wiki Images Creative Commons. Getting computers to understand language requires large amounts of linguistic data and “correct” answers to language tasks (what researchers call “gold standard annotations”). Large sets of language data and annotations are used in machine learning to train technologies to understand human voice commands, recognize a language, automatically translate one language into another, and lots of other things that make our computers, phones, and even our refrigerators smart! Simply by playing language games online you can help create the linguistic data used by researchers to improve language technologies. You don’t have to be a linguist or a computer scientist to contribute to research. Most everyone on the planet has lots of intuitive knowledge about the languages they speak, and researchers could use your help. Developed by researchers at the University of Essex and Queen Mary University of London, Phrase Detectives is an annotation game where players act as a detective solving cases by interpreting coreference (for example, the relationship between proper nouns and pronouns) in public domain literary and Wikipedia texts. Players earn points for solving cases and can get their scores listed on the game’s leader board. Having citizen scientists involved in playing language games has been crucial. “Research in computational linguistics is still mainly driven by the availability of annotated data,” explained game co-creator and professor of computational linguistics, Massimo Poesio. “By raising the profile of this type of citizen science, it may greatly help researchers like us to collect the very large language datasets on which our research relies. By providing a single portal where games for studying all types of language interpretation can be found, hopefully LingoBoingo can result in players attracted by one game then starting to explore other games as well.” In addition to Phrase Detectives, researchers from Essex and Queen Mary also created Tile Attack, a two player game where players earn points by collaboratively identifying noun phrases (persons, places, and things). Players not only earn virtual points in the game, but can also win monthly prizes. The results of these games can help computers automatically extract and summarize relevant information from texts, such as locations or person names. Name That Language, developed by the Linguistic Data Consortium at the University of Pennsylvania, tests your ability to recognize a language in a short audio clip. Players listen to an audio clip and have to identify the language from multiple choice options. Players earn points for correct answers, and the game gets more challenging as a player progresses. Bonus rounds give players an opportunity to earn double points by identifying languages in clips where the language being spoken has not yet been confirmed. By compiling the judgments about languages made by the game players, researchers will learn more about which languages are more easily confused and improve technologies that can automatically recognize human languages. Computer Science students at the University of Pennsylvania, in cooperation with their professors, have created a fun game called Know Your Nyms. In this game, players are challenged to name as many “-nyms” for a given word as they can before the timer runs out. These can include synonyms, antonyms, hyponyms, and meronyms. Don’t know what a hyponym is? Play the game to find out! Fans of language-related games such as crossword puzzles will love Know Your Nyms. LingoBoingo also contains a number of French language games. In existence since 2007, JeuxDeMots builds semantic networks in French by having game players cooperatively provide different relationships and associations for French words. Developed by researchers at INRIA, LORIA and the Sorbonne, Zombilingo is a fun game for lovers of grammar and zombies! Players collect brains (points) by identifying grammatical relationships in French sentences. A spin-off of Zombilingo, Rigor Mortis presents an Egyptian mummy-themed game where players earn points by identifying French multi-word expressions such as “hot air balloon” and idioms like “hit the road.” Playing these games is not only fun and educational, but it also creates language data that linguists and computer scientists need for their research. And, in turn, their research helps benefit the world by increasing knowledge about language and by creating better technologies. If you like playing language games, then head to LingoBoingo and help make the world a smarter place!

Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!

James Fiumara

About the Author

"James develops and manages projects with a primary focus on new initiatives and alternative uses of language resources, corpus development methods, and analytic techniques." Bio Source:

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